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Quick And Easy Chinese Spicy Shrimp August 4, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food.
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The Martin Yan cookbook I snagged a month or so back at a rummage sale for a buck continues to pay dividends.

Tonight I concocted a slight variation on one of his shrimp recipes, and came up with the following:

  1. Peeled/deveined about 3/4 pound of large-ish shrimp (16-20s)
  2. Tossed ’em with a pinch or two of kosher salt, one minced garlic clove, and a couple of pinches of red pepper flakes
  3. The shrimp and seasonings would then get stirfried until practically done in a wok, maybe 4-5 minutes.
  4. Added the premixed sauce: 2 1/2 tsp soy sauce, 2 tsp ketchup, 1 tsp hot chili paste, 2 tsp honey.
  5. Thickened it a tad with maybe 1/2 tsp of cornstarch in 1 tsp water.

AND THAT WAS IT.

This was amazingly easy to throw together, and tasted just great. Hints of sweetness with the honey, followed up with a sneaky increase of heat and then a finish of the garlic.

Yan’s version leaves the shells on the shrimp and dusts ’em with cornstarch before wokking ’em with dry red chilis and garlic. But the sauce is the same. The texture on his version would be different, but I’ve never been crazy about leaving the shells on shrimps. If you fry ’em enough and they crispy, fine, but I didn’t trust myself. And I still got what I wanted – shrimp in a thick, clingy spicy sauce.

A recurring motif in this Yan book is also the use of balsamic vinegar and hoisin sauce to create sweet/sour effects underneath chili heat. The Kung Pao recipe uses this, as well as some others, and I discovered it worked rather well. Despite large amounts of chili paste with red pepper flakes on top of it, the dishes do not come out overly hot, but well balanced.

AND my copy is an autographed first edition! Not too bad for a buck.

Random Baseball Card of the Day: 1970 AL Homerun Leaders July 15, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Well, maybe not so random. I remembered this card in my collection the other day when Aaron Judge won the All Star Break Homerun Derby. Judge made it look easy, and with his enormous 6 foot 7/280 pound frame looked like a man among boys. A guy that huge can generate a lot of power, and when you combine that with the physical and mental skills you need to hit major league pitching that Judge seems to have acquired between last year and now, well… you get the kind of monster stats he’s piling up.

But I thought back to Frank Howard, the big slugger for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the early ’60s before pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium lessened Howard’s sweet spots. They dealt him to the lowly Washington Senators in 1965 in a multiplayer deal that would net them Claude Osteen. Howard would continue to hit the hell out of the ball in Washington for years, always winding up in the running for home run titles. He’d get it in 1970 with an impressive 44 homers and 126 rbis, with a .962 OPS.

Yaz might be number 3 in homers on the card, but his offensive numbers that year were amazing. 40 homers, 102 rbis, lost the batting title by fractions to Alex Johnson, and led the league in on base, slugging and OPS with 1.044. How the hell did he lose MVP to Boog Powell that year? Did they need to pick someone from the Pennant Winner and eventual World Champion Orioles? SMH.

Harmon Killibrew smashed homeruns for the Twins his entire career. Back when this card came out, only Aaron and Mays had more lifetime as active players. He’d pass 500 homers lifetime the following year.

But both Killibrew and Yaz were baseball player sized. Both are 5 foot 11/180 or so pounds.  Guys like Howard were freakish, at 6 foot 7 and 230 pounds. You find guys that big much more in football and basketball than in baseball, the sport that welcomes guys like Freddie Patek (5 foor 5, 148 pounds) if they can play well.

Add 50 pounds of muscle to Howard and you get Aaron Judge. Ye Gods! I’m glad he’s on my team. It’s basically watching a behemoth the size of Rob Gronkowski with the baseball skills of Willie Mays.

Howard was the best slugger to ever play for a Washington team, even if that team is now in Texas. The current Washington team put a statue of him outside their stadium anyway, since he’s part of the city’s baseball history. And everyone still loves the guy since he’s so good natured.

The bigger they are, the nicer they are, as Bugs Bunny once said.

Keep Those Reviews Coming July 7, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Writing.
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A quick update on the literary canon of yours truly:

I have an appearance in the Independent Book section of the current issue of the New York Review of Books. (Link opens to a PDF). This is sort of an experiment on my part – I’m assuming the disproportionate majority of people who look at this particular outlet are directly related to the publishing biz – agents, editorial assistants, “scouts” and so forth of various degrees. It’ll be interesting to see who takes notice.

And if you do, that email is just over to the right… drop a line and say hello!

Another nice thing to happen is that readership of Wagstaff & Meatballs is driving more interest in the first book in the series, Cut To Wagstaff. Sales of that have perked up and new reviews might start to appear.

The third in the series is in the plotting stages, if you’re curious.

The first book of a different series, this one a lightly comic scifi adventure series for younger readers of all ages, is in the illustration stage.

AND I’ve been selling all sorts of old crap on ebay for way more than I ever thought I’d get. At some point, I’ll be able to see the floor in my closet once again!

Everything’s coming up Milhous!

So if you’re out there & haven’t posted a review of either book to Amazon yet, please join in! People in other creative fields get to enjoy the reaction from their audience immediately. Writing can be a lonely thing – you spend countless hours cobbling the thing together & banging it out, only to send it out into the world for dribs and drabs of reaction over time, if you get them at all – since reading, too, is a solitary and often lonely thing.

But I wanna know! What to people think? Any minor characters you particularly like and want to see more of in future stories? Any aspect of the book really stick with you?

I can never predict these things, so I’m always curious. I think all writers are, whether they admit it or not.

So keep ’em coming, thanks!

 

What Are Dreams Made Of? June 27, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in General, Writing.
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A quick note relating to a dream I had last night.

Not a dream with some celebrity in it where the plotline gets surreal and bizarre…. sorry, I save those gems for the Wagstaff novels.

In this dream, I met a woman who complimented me on my hair out of the blue as I walked past an old now-gone drug store in a shopping center from my childhood. You’d think I’d’ve known I was dreaming at that point, but I simply stopped in my tracks and decided to talk to her.  Hell, overcoming my shyness and chatting about my haircut with her should have clued me in that I was in a dream.  But I guess I’m bolder in the dream universe, so I talked with her about getting my haircut and checked her out and see if I could get a date out of it.

Much like what I’d do in real life, I made a point of looking at her eyes while I talked, since I either revert to my “Hey, Jim must be on the spectrum!” behavior of looking away from people as I talk, or reverting to my “Hey, Jim is a friggin’ dirty old sod” behavior by looking, well, elsewhere.

So because of that focus on her eyes, I got to study this young woman’s face while I chatted with her.  The image of that face stuck with me when I woke out of the dream and saw 5:53am on the clock. I thought about the face for a moment and it mystified me.

For  the life of me, I have absolutely NO idea who it was. (more…)

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1977 Big League Brothers, Rick & Paul Reuschel June 27, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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I’ve always liked the multi-player “special theme” cards Topps would do every so often. What I like the most about this one is how neither of these guys look like major league ball players. Without the names and the tell-tale 1977 design font and so forth, doesn’t this look like a polaroid from some company softball game?

“Here’s Rick and Paul, right before the BBQ and sack race…”

Paul Reuschel’s career with the Cubs only lasted a few years, but younger brother Rick had a pretty solid, if uneven, 19 year career in the majors. Rick had his best season the year this card came out, winning 20 games and finishing 3rd for the Cy Young.

The Cubs would trade Rick Reuschel to the Yankees in 1981, where he managed to play in the World Series, although without stellar numbers. He wound up back on the Cubs during their heartbreaking 1984 season, where they FINALLY reached the playoffs. For some reason, Reuschel was left off the playoff roster, and the Curse of the Goat went into action. The Cubs won the first 2 games of a best of five against the Padres, and then dropped 3 straight. They’d have to wait another 32 years for a World Series at Wrigley.

Reuschel got dealt to the Pirates and Giants after that, won a comeback player of the year award, wound up in another World Series in 1989 with the Giants, but they lost to the As and Reuschel finished his career sans World Series ring.

In today’s game, with the scientifically developed conditioning regimens, the constant spectre of PEDs floating around, and the overall athleticism of the majority of the players out there (regardless of height), seeing a pair of guys who look like these make the majors and in Rick’s case, have a long solid career as a reliable stopper fooling batters with speed changes and finesse…. well, it’s just something I’ll always love about baseball.

Football? You better be a big guy, made of iron to take all those hits.

Basketball? You gotta be tall, and also made of iron to take all those hits.

Hockey? You gotta be all those things, PLUS not care about getting all your teeth knocked out, PLUS be ready at any moment to get in a brawl.

But baseball? You can be an average schlub and play the sport….depending on your skills and how you use them.

 

The Slow & Ambling Paths of Plot Percolation June 20, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Movies, Writing.
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“So, where do your ideas come from?”

It’s one of the more common questions writers are asked.

While still promoting the current Wagstaff novel, I’m also into the develop-the-outline stage of Wagstaff 3 at this point, even while I hone the edges on a different series of books that will appear shortly.

Bow down, helots! I’m a multitasker!

I also made a fresh fettucine bolognese completely from scratch today, but you already knew I’m a CULINARY GENIUS.

Anyway, to get back to the “where do my ideas come from?” tack, since the Wagstaff series regularly features motifs, actors and plot points from all sorts of old movies and TV shows all mashed up together, damn near anything I watch might wind up in one, somewhere.

Especially if all that pop culture junk turns up in some off the wall dream I have. Every dream Wagstaff has in both of the books that turn out to be clues are ACTUAL dreams I’ve had in real life, by the way.  But that’s for another post.

Today, I wound up watching a couple of obscure movies I can tell you about.

I’ve already thought of the main-plot-drivin’ films I think I want to mine for the plotline of Wagstaff 3, but if any quasi-related tangential material crosses my radar, I usually feel obliged to watch it, just in case some detail or odd factor inspires me to use it. It’s basically the same mentality I use when browsing yardsales and thrift stores – I never know what might turn up, but after something does, it feels totally natural.

Today I started by watching Nick Carter: Master Detective, the first of three Nick Carter movies (more…)

Commemorative Baseball Card of the Day: T206 Willie Keeler portrait, circa 1910 June 19, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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The way-bac machine is traveling to damn near the beginning of baseball cards for this entry.

Wee Willie Keeler. “Hit ’em where they ain’t!”

Today is the day Keeler’s 44 game hitting streak ended in 1897, the year Quentin Collins became a werewolf.

His record would stand until Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game streak in 1941. Pete Rose would tie him with a 44 game hitting streak in 1978. No one has come close since.

Granted, 1890s baseball was not modern baseball. A real deadball era, where Keeler’s skills in bunting and spray-hitting were valued over slugging, which really came in with Babe Ruth & using fresh baseballs throughout the game. Keeler’s record of consecutive 200 hit seasons wouldn’t be broken until Ichiro Suzuki passed him in 2009. In some ways, Ichiro’s hitting style was a throwback to Keeler’s days, with the spray hitting, bunting, sacrifice, etc.

The survival length of Keeler’s hitting records is amazing. And he’s also credited with basically inventing the hit and run strategy.

He’d unfortunately develop tuberculosis and die way, way too young at age 50 in 1923.

A relation, Edith Keeler, was allowed to die by Captain Kirk in order to restore the proper historic timeline, despite the heartbreak.

Okay, maybe not ALL of this post is accurate. But the baseball stuff certainly is.

Today’s Heartwarming Creepy Old Man Story June 16, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, General.
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No, not me. This is ANOTHER creepy old man.

So today I had to drive down to some medical office and give my mom a ride home when her regular ride could not be reached due to telephone problems (long story, whatever). We made the most of it and swung by the best deli in LA for lunch since it wasn’t too far off, and then I dropped her off.

Then I figured since I wouldn’t be back in the Valley for a while, I’d swing by a big thrift store I liked over in North Hollywood to see their book selection.

Hell, yesterday between a YMCA fundraiser and a big dumpy thrift store in Reseda, I’d scored BIG – 9 total books between the 2 stops, with material on stolen art rings, history of food, old movies, and an autographed first edition of a Martin Yan cookbook, among some other items.

I hoped my luck would continue. So I took the long way back to the freeway which would swing me by a regular book hunting stop.

Unfortunately, pickings were thin. It looked like they’d been gleaned pretty well without replenishment from new donations. The only books worth getting were ones I already had (some Lidia Bastianich cookbooks) and ones I really didn’t need (even more cookbooks). Meh, whatever.

Two guys going through the books discussed how the store had been “going downhill” and how there wasn’t as much to pick from. Then one of ’em told a story I eavesdropped on as I browsed about buying some big box of English lace at an auction. I kept hoping he’d discuss wearing it so the story would really get interesting, but he only mentioned it since he had found a book about British lace at this store shortly after that where he discovered that some of the stuff he had was evidently worth quite a lot. Who knew?

And then there was the creepy old dude. (more…)

Wagstaff’s Picks: Belmont Stakes 2017 June 8, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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The house feels weird without my cat around. It seems bigger. It’s definitely quieter. And making some chicken salad yesterday without her pestering and bullying me for some felt very lonely.

So I’ve been keeping busy. I’m refining the story outlines for two more books and preparing another for publication in the next few months. Watch this blog for updates! This new book will be the start of a second series, a scifi adventure series for older kids, but certainly one that adults could also enjoy. As much as I bitch about living in the age of terminal adolescence, I may as well try to cash in on it.

And speaking of cashing in, I’ve gone through the lineup and past performances of this year’s Belmont Stakes entries, and have the following thoughts. (more…)

I Will Miss Her June 4, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Cat Thoughts, General.
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Sad news: my 8 year old Siamese, the star of “Cat Thoughts” on this blog,  lost her year and a half long battle with cancer.

I had her seven years, adopting her as a rescue momcat who had been abandoned along with her kittens. Someone found her, brought her & her family to Kitten Rescue. They let her wean her kittens & spayed her, adopting all of them out. They assumed from her small size that it had been her first litter, and she was probably a little more than a year old.

She was a shy one with strangers, and took a few days to get used to me. For those first few days, she’d hide during daylight hours and suddenly get brave at night, coming out to explore everywhere while meowing nonstop orders at me to open more doors, lift her up to more shelves, and the like. Next morning? Terrified kitty, back hiding under the bed. I thought about naming her Vampirella.

Eventually she did what all cats do, took over my house and declared herself the boss. Over time I figured out what sorts of toys she liked and what sorts she’d ignore. (more…)